Do men read fiction? This is a question traditional publishers have asked and decided in the negative. No. Men do not read fiction. The conclusion is based on numerous surveys that have been conducted concerning adult reading.
Now I find this to be a rather disturbing conclusion, because I’m a man and I read fiction. As of today, I’ve read 19 novels and 11 short stories this year. In fact, I just finished a novel yesterday. I also write novels. So how on earth did traditional publishers arrive at such a bizarre conclusion? Am I an odd ball? Or are traditional publishers mistaken?
Traditional publishing tends to be dominated by women and that may influence what ends up getting published. (cf, Where The Boys Are Not.) After all women do tend to read differently than men. And if women are functioning as agents and editors then their interests can’t but help have some influence as to what gets represented and what eventually gets published.
Porter Anderson, writing on Jane Friedman’s blog, disputes the notion that men don’t read fiction. And indie author Mark Dawson has statistical evidence that his John Milton thrillers are read about equally by men and women.
Nevertheless, there is a deluge of novels with strong female leads coming out of traditional publishing and indie publishing. Both men and women authors are cranking out novels where the protagonist is a strong woman. Myself included. I can’t help but think that this deluge is due to the notion that men don’t read fiction.
As a reader, a male reader, I don’t mind reading books where there is a strong female lead. One of my favorite characters is Robert E Howard’s Dark Agnes. Better known as Sword Woman. But quite honestly, I’m getting tired of reading books that only feature a strong female lead. After all, I am a guy and I’d like a little guy fantasy every now and then.
So I ask myself, why? Why all the strong female leads even from the pens of male authors? It’s not that I don’t like women, because I do. So what is the reason?
I think the reason, in part, is because there is a very strong trend, which has been going on for years, to have the main character — whether male or female — to be very touchy-feely. Perhaps this trend is due to a female dominated publishing industry. Because women tend to like their protagonists to be touchy-feely.
Lee Child made note of this in his introduction to a new addition of his first Jack reacher novel. What had started out to be a good thing, pretty soon became a bad thing because so many people were copying it and not doing it so well. In other words it was no longer innovative. The sensitive and troubled main character had become hack. A stock character. So Child made Jack Reacher not quite the opposite. Reacher is something of a man’s man and yet there is enough sensitivity to him that a woman reader could find him attractive.
I think the other reason, in part, is the perception that men don’t read fiction. If men don’t read fiction then why have a male lead in the first place? However this perception may not be true. The popularity of Jack Reacher and Mark Dawson’s John Milton would seem to indicate that both men and women like a male protagonist and one who is something of a man’s man.
In doing a bit of online research concerning the question, I ran across a wonderful article which indicates men do read fiction. However, they’re reading habits tend to be less flexible than those of women. The article is by Kate Summers and is on the Reference and User Services Association website.
In addition to being less flexible readers than women, men tend to be far less social concerning their reading habits. In other words, men tend not to talk about what they read. Something Anderson alludes to in his post which I referenced above. Consequently, surveys indicating men are less likely to buy and read fiction may be skewed in favor of women simply because men don’t answer them! Women are much more likely than men to be in bookclubs, tweet what they’re reading, or share book recommendations on Facebook, Goodreads, and Google Plus. All of which gives the impression men don’t read fiction.
Additionally, young men may not be as attracted to a touchy-feely main character as are young women. And if young men get the impression that novels are only for “girls and sissies”, then we are going to lose male readers of fiction. Which argues for the need to have — especially in YA books — strong male protagonists, written by male authors. Because young men tend to read male authors over female authors. Think about comic books here. Comic book heroes by and large are not touchy-feely and boys love comic books.
As a writer, this is an important question to me — because it impacts both what I write and how I market what I write. However, I’m glad to say I’m no longer overly concerned. I think it’s clear men do read fiction. Even adolescent boys will read fiction if there’s a strong male protagonist and lots of adventure. What is also clear is that men and boys just don’t advertise what they read. For whatever reason. They are also more set as to what they will read, than are women and girls. As a writer, I need to keep this in mind.
Do men read fiction? Yes, they do. Perhaps writers need to include strong male leads in more of their novels. After all, men spend money too. Why not have them throw a little bit in the fiction writer’s path?
As always, comments are welcome! Until next time, happy reading!Share This!